The secret’s out about the Port City and rightly so. Here are the best things to do in Wilmington, North Carolina over a long weekend.
Once a quiet beach town on North Carolina’s coast, Wilmington has flourished into one of the coolest travel destinations in the South. With its reinvigorated film industry, UNCW campus and temperate climate, the area has broad appeal.
From sandalled sun-worshippers to urban creatives, Wilmington’s a mix of hip and hometown that just seems to work. Three days won’t feel like enough time here, but these suggestions will give you somewhere to start and plenty to come back to.
Check into: Dreamers Welcome. This boutique B&B is one of the trendiest inns to hit downtown in a long time. This ‘place for travellers’ hasn't been open long, but it’s getting rave reviews as a minimalist’s paradise, full of sunlight, plants and soothing neutral tones.
It’s in a residential area but the bars and restaurants are only a short distance away. You’ll be greeted by a crisp, clean space to lay your head at night and a hearty vegan breakfast in the morning.
Top tip: book an in-room massage or private yoga class. The staff are ready to help you get into the right mindset for your trip with luxurious amenities dedicated to self-care.
Get oriented: with a stroll downtown. The Cape Fear Riverwalk is the pride and joy of the historic district. It’s an easy way to get oriented and scope out what there is to see and do. Find a view of the USS North Carolina from a stool at Anne Bonny’s (a bar and grill located on a barge), browse the Cotton Exchange shopping mall or get caffeinated at charming café Bespoke.
Paul Brady Photography/Shutterstock
Take a ride: on a trolley. Explore the surrounding neighbourhoods by hopping aboard one of downtown’s free shuttles. It’s a convenient way to cover a lot of ground in a short time.
Find fellow yogis at the beautiful Terra Sol Sanctuary on Castle Street or explore the ACME art studios and Brooklyn Art Center on North Fourth. Over at the South Front District, it’ll be hard to decide which to do first – getting food to go at Block Taco or booking a massage at Native, a wellness centre located in a salt cave.
Enjoy dinner and a show: The Thai-Vietnamese cuisine at Indochine is incredible and the restaurant’s chill atmosphere has made the spot a beloved favourite for 20 years. Buddha statues, Asian art and colourful murals adorn the walls and spill out into the backyard garden oasis.
It makes a mean massaman curry and the bar serves cocktails like Singapore Slings and Bali Blossoms. After your meal, catch a live performance at historic Thalian Hall or Greenfield Lake Amphitheater.
Make a beeline for: Wrightsville Beach. Don’t be fooled by the million-dollar houses and yachts – while this is the swankier part of town, everyone hangs out here. If you’re not one to laze on the sand, then rent stand-up paddle boards, grab a scoop of fro-yo at SurfBerry or walk “The Loop”, a 2.5-mile (4km) path that circles along the beachfront and through the town.
On your way back, consider a trip to peaceful Airlie Gardens. General admission is $9 and includes access to the centuries-old Airlie Oak and Minnie Evans Bottle Chapel.
Grab a bite: at Brasserie Du Soleil. This charming café tucked away in Lumina Station is where Wilmingtonians go when they want steak frites with a side of classy sophistication. From the crusty baguettes to the white linen tablecloths, it's a slice of France in this corner of NC.
Pair brunch with art: at the Cameron Art Museum Café. This restaurant and bar holds a spectacular brunch every weekend from 10am to 2pm. The natural lighting and airy ambience balances out the menu’s Southern comfort food. When you've had your fix of chicken and waffles or shrimp and grits, check out the exhibits or buy local art from the museum shop.
READ MORE: America's most stunning coastal walks
Explore: the outdoors on family-friendly Pleasure Island, around a 20-minute drive from Wilmington town centre. It’s the site of Carolina Beach State Park, which has plenty of green spaces for walking, biking or paddling, as well the NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher and the ferry landing for nearby Southport. The boardwalk can be crazy busy in the summer months but it's worth a visit (and the long line) for Britt’s Donut Shop (note it’s closed over winter).
Connection One / Alamy Stock Photo
Close out with cocktails: Before the weekend winds down, celebrate with cocktails at one of Carolina Beach’s bars. Super-casual The Fat Pelican, popular with surfers and dive-bar aficionados, has been around since the 1980s. It’s a stone’s throw from the beach so the sandy patio stays regularly crowded.
The tiki bar at Ocean Grill offers beachfront views with cold cervezas and fish tacos. It’s popular for its live music scene and on hot, summer nights, the pier turns to party mode when the sun goes down.
Lead image: Real Window Creative/Shutterstock
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